Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Gospel's Impact

What should we expect to take place when the gospel is proclaimed? Indeed, just what is the gospel and how should it be proclaimed? Does the gospel have any impact on the world today? Those are questions for which churches and Christians must have answers that are Biblically sound, and our text of 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10 will provide us with the answers.

The Bible makes it very clear that all men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Not only are all men sinners, but the wages of sin is death; not only a physical death but an eternal and spiritual death separated from God in a place of punishment. No man can earn, work, or pay his way out of this mess. Perfection is the standard for salvation. Sin is all that we can do; therefore it would seem that Hell awaits us all.

That is where the good news, the gospel, enters in and proclaims that God has made a way of salvation for sinners! The gospel is the good news that God has chosen to “deliver us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10). Paul also wrote in Romans 5:8 that, “God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” And in one of the greatest verses in all of Scripture, 2 Corinthians 5:21 we read, “For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”

Who is the “us” to whom God has commended His love, made righteous in Jesus, and chosen to deliver from the coming wrath? Everybody’s favorite verse answers that question! John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The “us” are those who will believe the gospel, repent of their sins and follow Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. The impact of the gospel is that dead sinners may become living saints through the Lord Jesus Christ. That is good news; the best news, that God graciously and mercifully offers salvation through His Son Jesus Christ and Him alone!!

Not only has God chosen to provide salvation to men, but He has chosen the means by which men are saved. People must hear the gospel and believe it in order to be saved. That is why the institution of the Church has been ordained by Christ to “preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).

In 1 Thessalonians 1:5 Paul says that the gospel came to the Thessalonians in a certain way. Notice the first phrase of that sentence: “For our gospel came not unto you in word only.” Now he did not say WITHOUT words. He simply said “not only with words.” There had been plenty of words (Acts 17:2-3). For three Sabbaths Paul, from the scriptures, had reasoned, explained, proved, and proclaimed that Christ was the Messiah, the Savior. The gospel is a message from heaven for man, and it deals with facts; revealing the truth about God and the truth about man. The gospel must be told, which means the gospel is in word, but it is not in word only. And here we have Paul acknowledging that the gospel didn’t just come with words.

Here is why this is important. When true preaching takes places it is not just words from a man’s lips. When the Spirit of God takes up the lips of His servant proclaiming His gospel, it is not just words. Paul had not endured a thrashing in Philippi, and then walked with a bleeding back the 100 plus miles to Thessalonica just to talk! Anyone can talk. Many people are good public speakers. Engaging conversationalists are not unique to Christianity. Theological truth can be understood and transmitted by just about anybody. A good communicator can cause people to follow his line of reasoning, but without the empowering of God’s Spirit, all of it is only words! With the Holy Spirit, however, it is much more than mere words. John MacArthur says in his commentary,
“Regardless of the erudition, the compelling logic, the soaring rhetoric, or the clever and interesting communication style, if the truth spoken is not accompanied by the power of God, it accomplishes nothing. But when empowered by God as it enters the prepared soul, the gospel truth saves.”
Until people understand this they will say things like,
“Why should I come to church and listen to someone talk? After all, aren’t sermons outdated? This is the age of communication, and we can communicate in so many interesting and new modes. Why on earth should I burn a Sunday, or any other day, just to hear someone talk?”
Of course the answer is: no reason at all! I could not agree more, because I have little interest in going somewhere just to hear someone talk. But when the Spirit of God takes up the lips of the preacher, then you are not merely listening to someone talk.

Proclamation of the gospel, whether from a pulpit or from across your kitchen table, is never supposed to be a monologue only; instead it is a dialogue between God and the hearer. How is this possible? The text answers the question.

The Gospel’s Power

The Gospel came in Power

“For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power.” There is no reason to talk and no reason to listen unless this is true. The power of God is present in the clear preaching of the gospel! 1 Corinthians 1:18 tells us so. The message of the cross is the power of God! Therefore, when this message which is foolishness to the world but the wisdom and power of God, when this message is proclaimed, whether from the pulpit or across a coffee table or across a booth in a restaurant or in the break room at your workplace, it’s not just talk…it’s not just words…it’s POWER!

The power is inherent in the message, not in the presentation. Power – the Greek word is "dynamis" from which the English word “dynamite” is derived. The gospel came not simply with words but with dynamite! When the message of the cross, came to Thessalonica there was dynamite in the message, and according to 1 Thessalonians 1:9 there was enough dynamite to shatter the false Gods that the Thessalonians had followed and served, because the message is unequaled and miraculous power.

Paul arrived in Thessalonica fully expecting this to happen. He expected that through the proclamation of the powerful gospel message people would be saved and a church would be planted. He expected that the enemies of the gospel would become angry and that his work would be opposed. He expected the city of Thessalonica to be stirred up by highly explosive gospel message. He wasn’t hoping for that; he expected it!

I cannot emphasize this enough; the gospel is inherently powerful in and of itself! The power is not in the presentation (Romans 1:16). And that is why I have a problem with trying to entertain people into the kingdom. We can make people feel good. We can entertain and encourage them. We can make them laugh and make them weep…but it’s all just words. Only in the gospel itself is there spiritual dynamite.

The Gospel came with the Holy Spirit

Paul said the gospel came with power and the Holy Spirit. Of course, the two go together; truly, you cannot have one without the other. In the scriptures you will find that power and the Holy Spirit are always interwoven. Between Passover and Pentecost the early church was hidden in a room. Why? Because they were waiting for something. Jesus came to them and said, “Ye shall receive power” that’s "dynamis". When would they receive this power? “After the Holy Ghost is come upon you”. Power and the Lord’s Spirit are always linked. Of course, the church would receive this power for the purpose of being a witness, a herald of the gospel message. I’ll again quote MacArthur who wrote,
“Genuine soul-transforming power accompanying gospel preaching is the work of the Spirit energizing both the preacher and the hearer.”
This power is not innate to your personality. This is not about being an extrovert, a type “A” personality, a motivated communicator, or anything of that ilk. The power is from and through the Holy Spirit to extroverts and introverts alike; to both smooth communicators and to stuttering, stammering lips.

This power was not intrinsic to Paul or his companions; it was Holy Spirit power! Paul understood this very well; later in life he would write to the church in Rome, “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost…through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God…I have fully preached the gospel of Christ,” Romans 15:13, 19.

Commentator John Phillips writes,
“Paul…did not rely on his…knowledge…education…his eloquence, or his powerful personality. It was not his outlines, his illustrations, or his sincerity that produced such spectacular results…it was the Holy Spirit. From start to finish everything about Christianity is supernatural”
The Thessalonians had not simply become religious. They had not turned over a new leaf. They were not merely attending a church service. They had been transformed, and that transformation was so complete it was literally a new birth! And it was all brought about by the plan of the Father, the work of the Son, and the application by the Holy Spirit.

Incidentally, why do you think Paul says “our gospel” instead of “God’s gospel” or “the gospel”? Do multiple gospels exist? Not at all! Paul was affirming that he had personally experienced the salvation through the powerful gospel. It was the gospel that had changed Paul’s life. It was the gospel that had transformed Saul the zealous Pharisee who hated Christ and His churches, to Paul the zealous apostle of Christ and church planter!

The gospel came not simply with words, but with Holy Spirit power and with “much assurance.”

The Gospel came with Much Assurance

Paul’s deep conviction was that when the gospel was faithfully proclaimed the Holy Spirit would empower the proclaimer and enable the hearer. Why? Because the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. We can be assured that the word of God will not return void (Isaiah 55:11), and we are called to be faithful witnesses of that powerful message. Assurance is not some human device whereby men persuade themselves. Rather it is the result of the activity of the Holy Spirit working within believers.

The Gospel’s Impact

The gospel’s impact on the Thessalonians (and on all who believe) was fourfold.

New Foundation

(Matthew 7:24-27) – Instead of shifting sands, all those who believe the gospel have their foundation on Christ the solid rock. In this life there are many unsettling things, but for the believer one thing is not in doubt: our lives have been radically changed and no longer do we live on a flimsy footing. We have been placed by God’s grace on the solid rock. “He brought me up out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings” Psalm 40:2.

New Family

(1 Thessalonians 1:4) – “brethren beloved” – As the Gaither's wrote and we sing:
“I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God; I’ve been washed in the fountain, cleansed by His blood! Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod; for I’m part of the family, the family of God”

New Focus

(1 Thessalonians 1:9) Until their conversion their lives had been consumed with idols, but now their focus was on the one, true, living God. The gospel truth had seized their hearts, minds, and wills with great power, and had given them a new focus. Becoming a Christian involves a very definite break from all non-Christian habits. It isn’t just adding the “Jesus package” to a lifestyle of our own choosing. It is a whole new God-ward focus.

New Future

(1 Thessalonians 1:10) They were patiently and confidently awaiting their Lord’s return. Not that they were loitering about and being idle. No, the prospect of their Lord’s imminent return spurred them on to holy living and a passionate zeal for the lost. May it also be true of us.

After being changed by the impact of the gospel, the Thessalonians became channels of the gospel message. Verse 6 says that they had become imitators of Paul and of Christ, and then verse 7 shows that they had become imitated by all the churches in Greece. They were a model for others to follow, and they were a sounding board, a channel, through which the gospel message was trumpeted.

The sounding board picture is a good one because a sounding board does not create sound, it reflects sound. It is not the source of the sound, but it amplifies the sound for others to hear. The church in Thessalonica was a sounding board of the powerful gospel message, in Thessalonica and all of Greece. May our churches be and /or become sounding boards of the gospel!

We need to be reminded of the gospel’s impact, and the centrality of the gospel message to the church’s purpose. We must recommit ourselves to this gospel focus in this age when so many other facets of church life are being emphasized and the gospel is minimized and/or neglected. Pray that we will have a deep conviction that the gospel is the word of the Lord, and since it is, we can and we must present it without apology and without amendment. Pray that whenever the gospel is proclaimed, whether it is from this pulpit or in your conversations with others that it will come not simply with words, but with Holy Spirit power and with much assurance.

Some who read this post may be lost. May I tell you plainly that it is a very serious thing to hear the word of God proclaimed, to find within your heart the stirring of God’s Spirit, and then to turn away on the assumption that you will feel again the way you now feel? You may never again have that prompting of the Spirit to trust Christ. You may never hear God’s voice in this way again. That is why we read in the scriptures, “To day if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts” (Psalm 95:7-11; Hebrews 3:15).

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